William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin Biography

William Thomson was a renowned physicist from Britain who formulated the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and invented the Kelvin scale of temperature. To know more about his childhood, career, profile and temperature read on

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
Quick Facts

Birthday: June 26, 1824

Nationality: British

Famous: Physicists Mathematicians

Died At Age: 83

Sun Sign: Cancer

Also Known As: Lord Kelvin, Lord William Thomson Kelvin, William Thomson Kelvin

Born in: Belfast

Famous as: Physicist


siblings: James Thomson

Died on: December 17, 1907

place of death: Largs

City: Belfast, Northern Ireland

More Facts

education: University of Glasgow, 1845 - Peterhouse, Cambridge, Royal Belfast Academical Institution

awards: 1883 - Copley Medal
1856 - Royal Medal
1905 - John Fritz Medal
1845 - Smith's Prize for Examination Performance

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Sir William Thomson Lord Kelvin was an Ireland born scientist, mathematician and engineer who is a stalwart of science and is credited for his pioneering work in the field of thermodynamics as well as in electromagnetism. Sir William had a profound effect on the sciences and made plenty of discoveries that made him one of the greatest scientist of his era, and indeed of all time. He had also worked on telegraphic projects commissioned by the British crown and was successful in producing a mariner’s compass that was far more reliable than the ones which were available at the time. There are very few scientists in the history of the world who can match up to the achievements and accomplishments of Sir William Thomson Lord Kelvin. In addition to that, it is also important to point out that his accomplishments have been in great many branches and fields of science; which is why he is counted among the most gifted scientific minds of the last millennium. Sir William was unlike his other contemporaries who dedicate themselves completely towards research in their laboratory, rather he believed he could contribute to the greater good by employing his skills in the field of industrial research. To know more about his life and works read on.

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William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
Childhood & Early Life
  • William Thomson was born on 26 June, 1824 to James Thomson and Margaret Thomson in Belfast, Ireland. He was the 4th child born to the Thomsons’ and showed a gift for the sciences quite early on in his life.
  • His father James was a mathematics teacher and William Thomson was initially home schooled. In 1834, at the age of 10, he started studying at ‘Glasgow University’; the institute provided elementary school education to willing pupils at the time.
  • In the year 1841, William Thomson went up to ‘Peterhouse College’ at ‘Cambridge University’ and studied mathematics, physics and pure sciences. He was also an eager sportsman while at Cambridge and in fact was a well-known athlete.
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  • Right from his days at Cambridge, William Thomson was known as a scientist of rare talent and in 1851 he published a paper in relation to Joule’s and Carnot’s theories on thermodynamics that was the touchstone of the ‘Second Law of Thermodynamics’.
  • Between the years 1852 and 1856, he partnered with James Prescott Joule and analyzed the experiments on thermodynamics carried out by the latter. Their collaboration led to plenty of discoveries in thermodynamics including the celebrated ‘Joule-Thomson Effect’.
  • In 1855, Sir William worked with the leading scientist of the period Michael Faraday on the transatlantic telegraph cable and the duo were also responsible for being the first to propound the concept of the electromagnetic field.
  • He was one of the earliest scientists to have devised a method of accurately measuring electric current and in 1857 he published a paper on the electrometer. He went on to invent the ‘Kelvin Balance’, which was regarded as one of the most accurate measure of the period.
  • He worked in two separate periods for the Atlantic cable company; between the years 1857 to 1866. He was involved in the process of laying the cables that would bring about a paradigm shift in how people communicated.
  • Once the transatlantic cable was completed; Thomson became the most sought after name in telegraphic communication and was made partner by two engineering firms. This association made him one of the wealthiest scientists of the era.
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Major Works
  • Sir William Thomson’s work on the transatlantic cable remains his biggest legacy that laid the foundations for modern communication technology and it later became one of the bedrocks of communication during the World War.
  • He was pioneer on thermodynamics studies and in 1848 was successful in establishing the correct value of ‘Absolute Zero’, which is the lower limit of temperature. The scale calibrated to measure temperatures is known as the Kelvin scale after him.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1866 Sir William Thomson was knighted by the British monarch in recognition of his sterling work in laying the transatlantic cable.
  • In the year 1892, the County of Ayr bestowed on him the title of ‘Baron Kelvin of Largs’ due to his contribution towards the sciences.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • His brother James Thomson was 2 years older than him and also studied at the ‘Glasgow University’. James Thomson is a scientist and engineer of great renown in his own right. He was made a Fellow of The Royal Society in 1877.
  • In the September of 1952, Thomson married his friend of many years and the daughter of Walter Crum, Margaret Crum however his wife suffered from health problems and that was one something that bothered him immensely. He had no children.
  • On 7th December, 1907 at the age of 83, William Thomson, First Baron Kelvin died after suffering from common cold for more than a month.
  • He was an extremely wealthy scientist who earned a fortune after partnering with two engineering firms in relation to his project on telegraphs. He owned a huge estate and was also the owner of a 126 ton yacht.
  • Sir William Thomson was a great devotee of the authors of the classics of literature and was known to quote them when he wanted to make a point.
  • The name Kelvin is derived from the name of the river Kelvin that flows close to the ‘University of Glasgow’.

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Article Title
- William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- October 30, 2017
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin

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